Margo Gray-Proctor is doing something different this year at the Reservation Economic Summit (RES) & American Indian Business Trade Fair. She’s going to be on the buying side of the table—as opposed to her normal selling side—at one of the conference’s signature gatherings, Business Matchmaking.
“The Business Matchmaking event is where buyers and sellers come together,” says Gray-Proctor, a member of the Osage Nation and chairwoman of the National Center for American Indian Economic Development (NCAIED), which organizes and hosts the annual RES conference. The largest American Indian economic and business development conference in the nation, RES 2012 takes place February 27 to March 1 at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
This year’s theme is the globalization of indigenous business markets, with a new emphasis on international trade. Reaching out globally is a natural and logical development for the Indigenous Peoples who were the first traders on the continent, Gray-Proctor says. “We are the original Wall Street.”
Business Matchmaking is held in the RES’s Procurement Pavilion, a conference marketplace for Indian businesses. “It’s like the speed dating of business,” Gray-Proctor explains. “We have all these buyers from Macy’s to NASA to other federal agencies like the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as corporate America and tribal enterprise people, who buy products and services from every possible industry from pencils to rugs to furniture to solar panels and more. You’re in a room with about 250 tables set up. Everyone lines up with business cards in hand, and all the information about their company and they have 10 minutes to pitch their companies to the buyers.”
Gray-Proctor owns Horizon Engineering Services Co., an award-winning construction-related business based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Horizon’s speciality is consulting with tribes on transportation planning, gaming/casino development, project management, environmental assessment research, master planning, conceptual, preliminary and final design, and bidding, negotiation and construction phases. But this year, one of her colleagues at work urged her to try the buyers’ side.
“I said I’ll do it,” Gray-Proctor recalls. “There are probably around 27 small Native-owned businesses that provide products and services for my company, so if I’m talking Native-to-Native I’d better be practicing that in my own house.”
Native-to-Native business is what both NCAIED (which Gray-Proctor humorously pronounces as “naked”) and the annual RES conference are all about. This year marks the 43rd anniversary of NCAIED, a nonprofit corporation that a small group of American Indian leaders began as a grassroots economic development organization.
This is also NCAIED’s 26th year of hosting the RES, an event that in addition to its size is also the country’s longest running American Indian business development conference and trade show. Last year more than 3,300 people attended, and even more are expected this year, Gray-Proctor says. Attendees include American Indian and Indigenous entrepreneurs, tribal economic and business development decision-makers, tribal leaders, government and corporate executives and buyers seeking Indian suppliers and contractors.
The RES provides three days of business information and training, delivered through more than two dozen breakout sessions. They are devoted to construction, tourism, technology, entertainment, economic development and small businesses, nonprofit-government-Indian law, business leadership–tribal leadership training for business, finance and investment and more.
For the opening general session on the first day of the conference, the RES has recruited Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs and Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, among others. Among the many breakout sessions, a discussion given over to “Talking Sports Entertainment: Lessons to Be Learned” will feature Cherokee rapper Litefoot, NFL player Levi Horn, boxer George “Comanche Boy” Tahdooahnippah and lawyer/ICTMN columnist Gabriel Galanda.
In addition to globalization, this year’s RES will emphasize energy. “Energy is a multibillion-dollar industry, and so many tribes have natural resources and that industry is going to be just a phenomenon with exploration and expansion,” says Gray-Proctor. “If you look at the bigger picture you’ll see that energy expansion means growth in roadway improvements, growth in housing, in job creation on the rez, commercial growth. Economic development demands better schools, more hospitals, more everything. But we also know development has to be on our terms. The resources are on our lands and we know that we need to be in charge of it.”